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Activist, organizer and producer of “An American Nightmare: Black Labor and Liberation” Kali Akuno discusses the “disposable” nature of Black life and labor

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. Why are black people being hunted and killed every 28 hours or more by various operatives of the law? Why don’t black people seem to matter to this society? And what can and must we do to end these attacks and liberate ourselves? These are some of the questions our next guest addresses in a new piece recently published for Counterpunch, titled Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation In the Disposable Era. To discuss his article and more is Kali Akuno. Akuno is a longtime activist and organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, is co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, and is currently also serving as advisor to the Jill Stein Green Party presidential campaign. He is also the producer of the forthcoming An American Nightmare: Black Labor and Liberation, a joint documentary project of Deep Dish TV and Cooperation Jackson. He joins us now from his office in Jackson, Mississippi. We welcome you, Kali Akuno, back to the Real News. KALI AKUNO: Pleasure to be here. BALL: So Kali, you say in your piece that there are concrete answers to those questions I raised in the intro. You say that these answers are firmly grounded in the capitalist dynamics that structure the brutal European settler colonial project we live in, and how African people have historically been positioned within it. Please, if you would, explain what you mean. AKUNO: Well, I’ll try to be brief, but that’s a long conversation. BALL: Right, right. AKUNO: Let me start with this. Number one, African folks have always been fully integrated into this society. Just not integrated in a manner that we so chose or in a manner that we so desire. But we were brought here to labor. Forced labor, cheap labor. And for the 400-plus years at least within the American project, the British-American project, that’s the role that we’ve played. And our lives have always been to a certain extent expendable when we weren’t making profit, or when we weren’t maximizing profits for the benefit of the controllers of that system. And that’s a dynamic, in terms of writing this piece, I wanted a younger audience to always kind of, to grapple with, to understand. To have a deeper grasp on our history and what our particular role is. Because I think that shapes our demands and how we understand what our role is in transforming this society, in that you got uprooted from the ground up. From the floor up. And that reforming it, you got to deal with some things that might alleviate some pressure here or there, might make some things more bearable here and there. But the real solution calls for transforming society inside and out. And that’s what this piece is really trying to really kind of engage this present upsurge in the youth who are out there to understand the kind of material foundations of the society that they are confronting. And why they’re asking these questions, why am I being treated like this, we can give them some kind of, some solid answers. We’ve always been treated like this. And we shouldn’t expect the dynamics to change unless we are able to change the material foundations that kind of structure the society. BALL: You know, you somewhat touched on this already. But if you would expand on this question of why this essay, now? What is in this moment that calls for this particular analysis? You talk a little bit about the Black Lives Matter effort. You talk about the post-Ferguson uprisings in this country. If you could just sort of more explain the moment we’re in now and why this particular analysis remains so important. BALL: You know, it’s something that’s been on my mind since Baltimore, really. The events that took place in you all’s hometown. I thought that that was a critical shift in the upsurge, wherein you would see a couple of dynamics. One, that the more clever ends of the state, the velvet glove end of the states and [capital] were going to try to figure out how they can appropriate the energy of this movement and redirect it in ways that would serve their interest. And if they couldn’t do that, how are they going to crush it? And I think we’ve basically kind of been at that moment for the last several months. And I think the movement has been, this upsurge, if you look at its internal dialogs and conversation, it’s been trying to figure out, well, where do we go? What are our programs, what are our demands? And just thinking about this and looking at the growing reaction that’s taking place that you see, that I think to a certain extent you see now, with kind of the boiling over of what the counter is to a lot of our folks who were fighting against the Confederate flags all throughout the South, and what Donald Trump in his presidential campaign and some of the others, these other reactionaries at that end of the political spectrum, what they’re really calling up. This level of what people are calling white resentment or white anger, white fear. Which I would challenge is a much more deeper piece that we’ve got to analyze within the civil society. What I was trying to get, convey, mainly through conversation but also through this piece, is that we should expect and anticipate a very vicious white reaction, from the state and those forces outside the state, but which the state always has given a certain level of legitimacy to, or lend it a kind of a blind eye, or an uneven hand, if you would. So the here and now of why I thought this was important to try to release this, A, to start getting people to think on a little deeper level if a contribution could be made to that end. Hopefully this article kind of stimulates that. But more importantly, to get prepared for this reactionary backlash that’s for sure to come, that’s mounting, that’s building, that’s well organized, well financed, gets a lot of media attention and media coverage. And we need to get prepared first on the educational level, but more importantly on the educational level. So I was just trying to make some contribution based upon my understanding and analysis of history, but also the work that I’ve been doing and kind of grounding it, and where I see some success and where I see some challenges. BALL: Well, we definitely want to have you back again to talk about the various efforts you’re involved in. But if you would, just very quickly, if you could summarize how the efforts you’re involved in now, whether it’s with the Green Party presidential campaign or Cooperation Jackson, or this forthcoming documentary An American Nightmare, how these efforts attempt to address this moment you’re talking about, this disposable moment, sort of updating the work as we talked off-air about, of Sam Yette or Sidney Willhelm, and their previous work about the disposable nature of black people. AKUNO: Again, a much longer conversation. But trying to be brief, you know, [inaud.]. Cooperation Jackson is an effort towards transforming our material conditions. Through our own efforts, through our own labor. Trying to meet this disposable era where we have skill capacity and resources in the present to kind of transform our communities from the ground up. That’s really what Cooperation Jackson, this whole effort in building a solidarity economy, an economic democracy. That’s really what that push is about. The piece with the Jill Stein campaign and the Green Party, and playing a role of advisor there, that’s a part around building independent politics. And there’s many ways in which to do that. We have some experience doing that of a sort here in Jackson, Mississippi, with running Chokwe and Chokwe being mayor. So really trying to take some of the valuable lessons of that experience over the past six years and lend that to a bunch of different independent forces throughout the country, particularly with Jill Stein and the Green Party. I think in this piece of trying to get across some support, measures such as this, that was articulated in this article, to kind of reshape the debate and influence it to whatever extent possible. And then the piece–moreso with the film project. That’s trying to do education on a mass level, quite frankly. And something that can have a lasting impact, and an immediate impact. We’re looking to try to release it in 2016. We’re in the hunt for resources and doing a number of things of that nature for all of these projects, with all these campaigns, as you know. But for that one it’s really trying to make a lasting impact. We started this project, what’s called the American Nightmare Project, we started it well before Ferguson. It’s probably about two years in its conception already old now. And been trying to hone in on where exactly and how exactly do we tell this story, about the role of African people in this society, and do we have a future, in this society and in the world, looking at how the global economy and how the American economy and even local, domestic economies are shifting to make our labor not only redundant, but how we’re being treated as basically obsolete and being disposed of. And we wanted to–I really wanted to hone in on that analysis, because it’s something I learned from my experience in Katrina ten years ago. And I think it’s something that I’m still trying to develop and bring out, encourage people to argue and debate it, because I think we need it. We need a lot more theoretical engagement and analysis in our movement overall. But I think in this period there’s a definite need for more. So just trying to make those contributions and those three things. And this is kind of consistent with the trajectory that I’ve been trying to follow I think now for the last three to four years. It’s some of what you saw in the Jackson-Kush plan. Those three elements. And you see that still being played out with Cooperation Jackson on a local and somewhat a national level, with the Jill Stein campaign moving some local dynamics hopefully to a national stage. And with this project, trying to do the mass education work that I think is necessary to move a generation further along a radical path. BALL: Well, Kali Akuno, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News. And we’ll look to have you back again before too long. AKUNO: Thank you. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. Again, for all involved I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore, saying as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


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Kali Akuno was the Coordinator of Special Projects and External Funding for the late mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, MS. He is the author of the organizing handbook Let Your Motto Be Resistance and wrote the preface to the report Operation Ghetto Storm. He is an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) (, former co-director of the US Human Rights Network, and served as executive director of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund based in New Orleans, LA. Kali currently resides in Jackson, MS.

Jared A. Ball is a father and husband. After that he is a multimedia host, producer, journalist and educator. Ball is also a founder of "mixtape radio" and "mixtape journalism" about which he wrote I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto (AK Press, 2011) and is co-editor of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable's Malcolm X (Black Classic Press, 2012). Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at IMIXWHATILIKE.ORG.